One Giant Leap: Apollo 11
This blog post originally appeared July 20, 2009
Speaking before Congress in May 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked for an American commitment to landing a man on the moon "before this decade is out." That commitment was indeed made, and eight years later, on July 16, 1969, three American astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—lifted off from Cape Kennedy, Florida, in their Apollo 11 spacecraft bound for the moon.
On July 20 they reached their destination. That day, at 10:56 p.m. (eastern daylight time), with an estimated 600 million people around the world watching him on television, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface uttering the words "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Shortly thereafter, while Michael Collins orbited above in the mission’s command ship, Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong on this first human exploration of the moon. So a fantasy, as old perhaps as humanity itself, had become a reality. Soon after the astronauts returned safely to earth, artist Ronald Anderson set about doing this picture commemorating their moon landing. In preparation, he interviewed all three of his subjects, and after the painting was finished, they autographed it for him.
It is a very beautiful thing, and most gratifying to the sight, to behold the body of the moon, distant from us almost sixty earthly radii, as if it were no farther away than two such measures--so that its diameter appears almost thirty times larger, its surface nearly nine hundred times, and its volume twenty-seven thousand times as large as when viewed with the naked eye. In this way one may learn with all certainty of sense evidence that the moon is not robed in a smooth and polished surface but is in fact rough and uneven, covered everywhere, just like the earth’s surface, with huge prominences, deep valleys, and chasms.
- Galileo Galilei, The Starry Messenger, 1610